Carol Zinn, SSJ: Religious Life for the Life of the World

"Religious life is always a radical response to the Gospel in a particular historical and cultural context," said Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ, PhD, in her presentation to the women religious of the Diocese of Erie who gathered at Mount St. Benedict Monastery on Saturday, May 13 at the invitation of Bishop Lawrence Persico. "When the history and cultural context shifts, guess what's right behind it? The expression of religious life shifts to match it. Today's women religious are in a process of transformation—a chrysalis, like a caterpillar transforming to a butterfly."

Sister Carol, a Sister of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA, and former President of LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious), spoke to those gathered about religious life for the life of the world, today and tomorrow. Her message offered many insights, questions and challenges. Religious life is lived in and through the Church but for the life of the world. Religious are called to go to the edge, to live with those on the peripheries—to be with the marginalized. "It is always about transformation and making the Gospel present," said Sister Carol.

The answers to the questions facing the future of religious communities today need to be about transformation. Sister Carol was clear: "Change is knowing what is coming; in a moment of transformation no one really knows how it will look beforehand." Using the caterpillar/butterfly image, she noted: "A butterfly is not a better caterpillar, but a different insect because it has transformed." She urged religious women to wrap hands, heart, body, soul and spirit around whatever God is doing at this moment. While it is true that in a moment of transformation no one really knows what is coming, joy will come from embracing the mystery of what God is about to do.

The gathering also included a question and answer session with Sister Carol and Bishop Persico, prefaced by the Bishop's gratitude to be able to have his first public dialog with the religious women of the diocese. In his appreciation for Sister Carol's message the Bishop also encouraged all of the religious present: "We must have the courage to not be afraid to move forward—always forward—to transformation."

Check out Sister Val's blog, The Times They Are A-Changin', in which she shares her thoughts about Sister Carol's presentation.